Rome’s population will swell by about 1 million people this weekend as pilgrims from around the world descend on the city to celebrate the beatification of John Paul II, the Polish-born pope who died in 2005.
The Italian capital’s 1,000-plus hotels are almost fully booked, with some rooms going at double their usual rate, according to the hotel.info booking service. Police closed six hotels and issued more than 300,000 euros ($438,000) in fines for tourist rip-offs and practices including adding up to eight beds to small rooms, Ansa news wire reported April 21.
Church-run hostels and guest houses have been “inundated with requests” since the current pope, Benedict XVI, announced John Paul’s beatification, said Sister Emilia of the Giusti Hotel, run by nuns of the Saint Ann of Providence order. Beatification is the third of four steps in the process of canonization, or becoming a saint.
About 1.1 million visitors are expected over the weekend in Rome, a city of 2.8 million, as Catholic pilgrims add to the usual flow of tourists and music-lovers attending the annual May Day concert, according to the municipality’s website. The cost of security, transportation, clean-up, health care and other services for the weekend will be around 3.5 million euros ($5 million), the city said.
“We are very excited and nervous about our trip,” said Maria del Puy Campo, who will travel to Rome from Madrid along with 35 members of her church. “It was very difficult to book flights and hotels.” Even at a price of 520 euros for a one-night package with meals and flights, Campo, 35, was determined to make the trip, saying she has “a special affection for this pope, as I had an audience with him and was also in Rome when he died.”
Benedict in January began the process for his predecessor’s canonization by decreeing that John Paul had miraculously healed a French nun with Parkinson’s disease. Following the beatification ceremony on May 1, the first Sunday after Easter, Karol Jozef Wojtyla will be declared “blessed,” allowing for his public veneration by Catholics and moving him a step closer to sainthood, which requires a second miracle.
The gathering of pilgrims will be Rome’s largest since the April 2005 death of John Paul, when more than 1 million followers and 200 religious and political leaders came to pay their respects. During the pontiff’s funeral, crowds of mourners chanted “Santo Subito,” or “Sainthood Now.”
The Vatican heeded the call, waiving the traditional five-year waiting period before initiating the process of beatification, the first time the procedure has been sped up since the Church began the process for Mother Teresa of Calcutta upon her death in 1997.
Rome has dedicated three days to the proceedings, beginning with a vigil on April 30 at the Circus Maximus, an ancient amphitheater, followed by a ceremony the next day in St. Peter’s Square and a concert. The faithful will be able to view the late pope’s remains on May 1 inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Pope Wojtyla was a friend not just of the faithful but of all of Rome,” Mayor Gianni Alemanno said in a video message on the City Hall website. “We remember him in our neighborhoods and our churches, unforgettable memories that we want to celebrate together.”
City authorities say they expect over 5,000 buses carrying about 260,000 visitors, many of whom will be from Poland. Around 30,000 Poles have signed up for church-organized trips to the Italian capital, with more than 400 coaches and three trains chartered, according to Father Piotr Studnicki, a priest involved in organizing the trips.
“I remember the crowds for the funeral,” said Marco Daidda, who works at the Canova Café’ in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo. “It was madness for days all over the city and we’re expecting more of the same” this weekend, he said. Rome will be “packed, and we’ll be working like mad.”
To deal with the crowds, the city will provide additional bus and metro service and set up 200 information and assistance points, 400 portable toilets, a temporary hospital and 14 mobile health posts staffed with doctors and nurses. Some 3,500 volunteers and 300 civil protection officers will be on hand to help manage crowds.